The bacterium that causes ulcers and contributes to stomach cancers uses a clever interaction between two genes to randomly tighten and loosen its grip on the stomach, according to a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Umeå University in Sweden.
Helicobacter pylori often binds tightly to cells of the stomach lining to feed, but the newly identified interaction ensures that a small reservoir of bacteria are always more loosely connected. This reservoir is much more likely to survive if the host mounts a strong immune response. "Basically, if youre holding onto someones T-shirt and they start punching you hard, youd like to be able to let go," jokes Douglas Berg, Ph.D., Alumni Professor of Molecular Microbiology and an author of the study. "Any savvy bacteria are going to want to be able to do the same."
New insights into how H. pylori sticks to and then releases from the stomach wall will advance efforts to design better drugs and vaccines against the bacterium, which is estimated to be present in more than half of the worlds population. Most H. pylori infections in the U.S. and other industrialized nations can be treated with antibiotics, but treatments are too costly for many sufferers in underdeveloped nations, where the bacterias pervasiveness and poor sanitation significantly increase the risk of repeat infections. In addition, resistance to standard drug therapies is a major problem in these countries.
Michael C. Purdy | EurekAlert!
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